The four signs of ectopic pregnancy that every woman should know.

Elation over your newly discovered pregnancy can quickly turn to panic and despair if you find out it’s ectopic.

Ectopic pregnancy, when the fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tubes, occurs in one to two in every 100 pregnancies and can be dangerous if left untreated.

While this pregnancy complication can be picked up with a scan, it’s better treated when it’s caught early. So what are the signs of ectopic pregnancy to feel for?

Abdominal pain

Sydney-based fertility expert at Demeter Fertility, Dr Sonya Jessup, explains that a common sign of ectopic pregnancy is pain – normally localised to one side of your abdomen.

“It’s more sharp pain and it’s moderately severe – it’s not like a period cramp type of pain,” Dr Jessup says.

She warns that if you experience intense pain the fallopian tube may have ruptured, causing internal bleeding. In this case, you should call Triple 0 or make your way to emergency immediately.

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Not all ectopic pregnancies will result in bleeding, Dr Jessup says, but if you do experience bleeding while pregnant this could be a sign of ectopic pregnancy.

“Somebody who is miscarrying will quite often have some bleeding, followed by pain. If you’ve got an ectopic pregnancy you’re more likely to have bleeding, followed by pain,” she explains.


The fertility specialist and obstetrician-gynecologist says symptoms will normally start being felt around week six of your pregnancy.

Shoulder tip pain

“If you’re bleeding into the pelvis and then you lie down that blood tracks up to under the diaphragm that sends referred pain normally to your right shoulder,” Dr Jessup says.

Referred pain is pain felt in another area of the body that is not the source.

“If you’ve got shoulder pain and you know you’re pregnant you need to go to an emergency department immediately.”

Pain is a sign of ectopic pregnancy. (Image via iStock.)

Diarrhoea and vomiting

An ectopic pregnancy can cause similar symptoms to a gastrointestinal disease - nausea, and diarrhoea. Dr Jessup says these symptoms are more often ignored by women who don't know they are pregnant and do not connect it to other symptoms they may be experiencing.

Know the risk factors

Dr Jessup explains there are a number of risk factors that may increase your chances of experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.

  • If you've had an ectopic pregnancy before
  • If your fallopian tubes may have been damaged, for example, from appendicitis.
  • If your pregnancy is through IVF

"I always tell those patients as soon as they are pregnant to have a scan at six weeks if they have any of these risk factors."

Dr Jessup recommends that if you think you may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, call your doctor. They may be able to confirm with an external ultrasound, but likely will need to perform an internal scan. If confirmed, you will then be advised on the best course of action.

"If it's an ectopic pregnancy... it can't grow to a baby. It's not going into an ongoing pregnancy, so then it's the safety of the mother (that is the focus) and fixing it up so you've got chances to get pregnant again with as little damage possible."

If you are concerned about the health of you or your baby, see your GP as soon as possibleIf this post has raised any issues for you or if you would like further information on ectopic pregnancies, contact Sands Australia 24-hour support line on 1300 072 637.